The Harper government has ended diplomatic relations with the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran. Whatever the motives for or merits of that decision, it is true that the Ahmadinejad regime is a well-known abuser of human rights. It resorts to the death penalty with an alacrity that rivals that of Texas. A Canadian photojournalist was killed in Iranian custody in 2003, and the government is currently holding two Canadians on death row.
Meanwhile, Sun TV's Ezra Levant has adopted the hateful anti-"Gypsy" rhetoric of the Hungarian extreme right party Jobbik.
About a week ago, Levant went on the air to say that "Gypsies constitute a culture synonymous with swindlers" and that "the phrase Gypsy and cheater have become so interchangeable the word entered the English language as a verb: to gyp."
The quicksilver-tongued Levant added that these "Gypsies" have come to Canada "to rob us blind as they have done in Europe for centuries." (The Sun TV "personality" -- calling him a journalist would be a stretch -- eschews the "politically correct" word Roma, which he says is the name for a kind of tomato).
A shared culture of hate
Pretty much all of this hate talk could have been lifted almost word for word from the propaganda of Hungary's neo-Nazi Jobbik Party -- but what has it all to do with Iran and Ahmedinejad?
Well, Jobbik, as it happens, is the Iranian leader's best pal in all of Europe. The Hungarian far right party actively promotes Iranian-Hungarian friendship and sponsors frequent get-togethers with Iranian government folks.
It seems that a capacity to hate creates odd bedfellows.
The main attitude Jobbik shares with the Iranian leader is a visceral loathing for the Jews. In fact, to Jobbik the only people lower than the Jews are those "inherently criminal" "Gypsies."
Ezra Levant, like this writer, happens to be Jewish, and so might not find Jobbik's open and unabashed anti-Semitism too charming.
But, on the "Gypsy" question, Sun TV’s Levant is completely onside with the Hungarian anti-Semites.
When does a rant become illegal hate speech?
In his on-air lecture on the "Gypsy problem" Levant shows himself to be a fluent in the ancient art of ethnic stereotyping to foment hate.
He says of the "Gypsies" that they are "not a race, not a religion, not a linguistic group. They are the medieval prototype of the Occupy Wall Street movement: a shiftless group of hobos that doesn't believe in property rights for themselves -- they're nomads -- nor for other people, whom they rob blind."
Aside from the sickening and vitriolic tone of Levant's screed, which at one point specifically targets women and children, Levant has obviously done no research whatsoever. The facts are that Roma are a recognized "people"; they have a language, Romani; very few present-day Roma lead nomadic lifestyles; many own property; and many work at all kind of occupations, from musician to lawyer.
The climax of Levant's finger-wagging and hysterical expectoration of hateful bile comes when he warns us: "Now that ['Gypsy'] scourge has come to Canada..."
Despite his extreme nastiness, it is hard to take Levant too seriously.
He has quite deliberately carved out a role for himself as the outrageous and nasty buffoon of the Canadian Right. He seems to have an infantile need for attention, and, like any toddler throwing a tantrum, he wins when we give him that attention.
However, in the case of his hate rant against "Gypsies" Levant may have gotten more than he bargained for.
More than one of the "commenters" this Sun TV rant attracted have suggested the Canadian authorities should deal with the "Gypsies" using "bullets rather than lawyers and courts." When your speech incites acts or threats of violence -- well that may take you close to hate crime territory.
This is how Section 319 of Canada’s Criminal Code defines hate speech:
"(1) Every one who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace is guilty of an indictable offence ...
(2) Willful promotion of hatred: Every one who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, willfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of an indictable offence ..."
Yesterday Sun News took down the comments that directly advocated killing innocent Roma. But the comments had been there for a number of days, and they had been posted in direct response to and support of Levant's vile and, for the most part, utterly false statements.
Is Levant guilty of a hate crime? I'd say "you be the judge," but as I am writing this piece -- today on September 11, 2012 -- it seems that Sun TV has either removed or very craftily hidden Levant's rant on the "Gypsies" and one can no longer find it online. Maybe someone in that organization got worried that the possibility Levant committed a hate crime is quite real indeed.
In the end, what is most disturbing about all of this is not that one professional right-wing ranter expresses such hateful and ignorant views.
What is really troublesome is that, in some form or other, those views are shared by many well-heeled, well-educated and "enlightened" people -- here in North America and even more so in Europe.
Tomorrow, we will feature an exchange with one such person.
Karl Nerenberg covers news for the rest of us from Parliament Hill. Donate to support his efforts today. Karl has been a journalist for over 25 years including eight years as the producer of the CBC show The House.